Lusia Harris, basketball pioneer and only woman drafted into the NBA, dies at 66

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 10: Ben Proudfoot, Gabe Godol, Lusia Harris and Brandon Somerhalder attend the 2021 Tribeca Festival Premiere Shorts:
Lusia Harris, seen here at a 2021 film fesitval showing a documentary on her life, died on Tuesday at 66.. (Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Tribeca Festival)

Lusia Harris, the first and only woman to be drafted into the NBA, died on Tuesday in her native Mississippi. She was 66 years old.

Her family announced her death in a statement. The cause of death is not clear.

“We are deeply saddened to share the news that our angel, matriarch, sister, mother, grandmother, Olympic medalist, The Queen of Basketball, Lusia Harris has passed away unexpectedly today in Mississippi,” the statement reads. “The recent months brought Ms. Harris great joy, including the news of the upcoming wedding of her youngest son and the outpouring of recognition received by a recent documentary that brought worldwide attention to her story.”

Harris led Delta State to three straight AIAW national championships from 1975-77, when the AIAW was the equivalent to the NCAA for women's collegiate sports. A 6-foot-3 center, Harris averaged 25.9 points and 14.5 rebounds while shooting 63.3% from the field in 115 college games. She was a three-time All-American.

After her college career, the New Orleans Jazz selected Harris in the seventh round of the 1977 NBA draft. Per the Associated Press, she didn't try out for the Jazz because she was pregnant.

Harris also starred on the inaugural U.S. Olympic women's basketball team and made history as the first woman to score a point in basketball at the Olympics. She played alongside fellow pioneers Nancy Lieberman and Pat Summitt, who went by her maiden name Pat Head at the time. The United States won a silver medal at those Montreal Games.

Harris was the first Black woman to be enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992. She was also inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999.

She lived long enough to witness a documentary celebrating her life titled "The Queen of Basketball," which made its debut in 2021.

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